In January, I wrote part three of a wine drinker’s walk through tour of the Yukon Liquor Corp. (YLC) store, covering Australia, and wanted to move on to the section next to it – the wines of Argentina.
The purpose of this set of articles has been to share wine information with those folks who might traditionally be beer drinkers, or have just begun to think about buying a bottle of wine to try out. So, on to Argentina!
This South American wine giant has been growing grapes and producing wine since 1557, when the first Spanish explorers arrived.
While the original wines and grapes were of Spanish origin, since the 1860s, native French grape varietals have strongly influenced the style of wines being made n the country, including its signature red. More about that in a little while.
In the 19th century, successive wave of immigrants came to Argentina, first the French, and then Italians. Each brought with them grape varietals and wine making sills from their native countries.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Argentina was the eighth wealthiest country in the world, and much like our own gold rush population in the Yukon, this wealth created a taste and demand for some of the finer thing in life, including good wines.
Sadly, the world wide depression in the 1920s and ’30s, as well as a military dictatorship in the ’60s and ’70s, really hit the wine industry in Argentina in a big way. During this time the wine industry kept in business by making cheap vino de mesa, or table wine, for the domestic market.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that wine exporters saw the opportunity in the weak Argentinean peso to export their wines to the US and Europe, where they could be sold very inexpensively, which gave them a competitive advantage.
Even as late as 2004, I recall working as a wine merchant in the US, and bringing in and selling cases of Argentinean torrontés white wines, and red malbecs at $2.99 a bottle.
I wish I still had access to wines of that price and (relative) quality! They were actually pretty drinkable.
By the end of the ’90s the Argentinean wine industry had taken a page from the experience of countries such as Australia.
It began to focus on modern technical approaches of viticultural (grape growing) and winemaking techniques such as limiting grape yields from vines (pruning excess grapes to improve and concentrate wine flavour in the fewer remaining grapes), strict temperature control during the fermentation, and the use of new oak barrels.
These modern techniques brought Argentina’s wine industry to its modern heights, and cemented its position as a leading producer (currently the fifth largest wine exporter in the world) of world class wines.
I mentioned the malbec wines earlier. This has emerged as Argentina’s red wine home run. Originally a French grape, it was exported to and planted in the Mendoza Valley, and other regions in the middle of the 19th century.
This grape has virtually died out in its original home of France, but emerged as the flagship wine grape of the Argentinean wine industry.
The YLC has a number of very good examples that are worth a try. At the value-priced end of the spectrum, the Finca Flichman and Norton Lo Tengo malbecs, at $14.15 and $15.40, are very respectable examples from well-known and consistent quality vineyards.
For only five or six dollars more, you can step up to the reserve malbecs, like the BodegasEscorihuela 1884 Reserva Malbec ($18.85), Norton’s Reserva Malbec ($21.25). Or, for something even more different, go all out and try the Xumek Reserva Malbec Syrah blend, for $32.90!
While I wouldn’t spend $33.00 for a wine every day, the fact that you can’t spend much more than that on a malbec shows you the value of these wines.
They’re great food wines and, with their South American heritage, they’ll pair well with steaks and sausage and other grilled meats (maybe game, too… hmm… I’ll have to try that), as well as stand up to spicy Latin-influenced cuisine.
Malbecs are medium to full-bodied red wines, with a fair amount of tannin (that mouth puckering flavour / texture) and hints of earthiness, coupled with ripe fruit flavours like blackberries and plums.
And look for wines from the Mendoza region… one of the largest and oldest quality wine regions in Argentina.
Well, that’s all for this time, but we’ll move on to European treats in an upcoming article.
In the meantime, I hope these articles may cause you to explore some new wines from regions that you may not have tried before.